Fall Mini Course coming soon
Watch Growing Floret now
Home Blog Paying it Forward
September 6th 2021

Paying it Forward

Written by
Floret

I started growing flowers when our kids were still really small. To put that into perspective, Elora is in her third year of college and Jasper just graduated from high school. So I have been growing flowers for a very long time. 

When the kids were little, Chris was working as a mechanic down in Seattle and commuting back and forth to work every day. During the week he was hardly home and I was by myself caring for two young children so I had a lot of time to think about what I wanted to be when I grew up. 

Elora, Erin, and Jasper BenzakeinI tried out numerous small business ideas during those early years to see what would stick, including planting an heirloom cider orchard (I didn’t take into account that it would be at least five years until my first viable harvest). I raised more than a hundred chickens in our backyard for a rainbow egg business, but the birds kept escaping from their coop, and I would get angry calls from our neighbors daily. 

I even tried my hand at growing miniature vegetables for local customers, but quickly realized it takes a lot of baby zucchini to make $5. I attempted so many different ideas but none of them went anywhere. 

Erin Benzakein feeding chickens on the farmAlong the way, I added flowers to my garden and started selling the extra blooms. Unlike all the other things I made or grew, flowers had the power to stir such deep emotion. Every time I delivered my homegrown blooms, complete strangers would open up and share the most beautiful stories with me. 

Almost every recipient had a flower memory that they could recall as if it were yesterday. It wasn’t until I started sharing flowers, which I had grown myself, that I felt like I had finally found my calling. 

From that season forward, every waking minute was devoted to the garden. I was obsessed. But I knew very little about flower farming. 

Erin Benzakein raking compost on the farmErin Benzakein in a hoop house at FloretI spent nearly every evening and weekend camped out in online chat rooms, having long question-and-answer sessions with flower growers across the country, and filled my days reading every gardening book my local library could order and trying to practice all the things I had read about in my garden. 

Erin Benzakein planting rows of sweet peasAt that time, social media wasn’t even a thing yet, and there was so little information available on the topic. I constantly referenced Lynn Byczynski’s The Flower Farmer, Sarah Raven’s The Cutting Garden, and Martha Stewart’s Gardening: Month by Month, plus a few trade publications, but other than that, I just made it up as I went along.

I am all for being self-taught, but trying to build a business from scratch with so little to go on and no community was incredibly lonely and challenging. Because I was learning everything as I went along I made so many painful and expensive mistakes. 

Erin Benzakein holding a tray of seedling outside the greenhouseErin Benzakein making arrangements in a messy studioWhen I think back to those early days I am still amazed that I didn’t throw in the towel. I failed way more than I succeeded and for the first few years, I really thought about quitting every single day. 

Nothing came easy and every failure felt like proof that I was on the wrong path. Every time my faith wavered and I questioned what I was doing, Chris would always say to me, “The flowers are different. Just keep going.” So I would get back up, dust myself off, and try it again. 

Erin Benzakein harvesting tulips in the greenhouse Chris Benzakein packaging bouquets of flowersEven though I stumbled my way through the first few years, I still managed to somehow grow a little business in our backyard and eventually start making a small profit. Every penny that I made with my flowers went into paying off a mountain of debt that we incurred some years earlier. 

Because we were so determined to get out of debt and clean up the mess that we made, there was never any extra that I could invest in myself or my learning. 

Erin Benzakein working late in the studio at FloretI spent so many hours walking circles in our garage while making thousands of mixed bouquets dreaming of the day I could finally leave the farm and go learn from my flower heroes. Every time one of them would announce an upcoming class or workshop my heart would ache. 

I was working so hard and while I was making good progress on paying down our debt and getting better at growing and arranging flowers, I never felt like I was getting any closer to realizing the big dreams I had for myself. 

Erin Benzakein looking at her phone in the Floret studioErin Benzakein's office deskDuring that time I had started writing articles about my flower growing journey and had the opportunity to interview Ariella Chezar, the godmother of seasonal floral design, and we became penpals. She knew how badly I wanted to attend one of her workshops but I couldn’t ever come close to affording it. 

Erin Benzakein sits on the floor of her studioI’ll never forget the day that I received her email saying if I could get myself to her next workshop that I could attend for free. Up until that point my flower journey had been so incredibly difficult and nothing came easy. I had gotten so worn down by the grind that I was on the verge of quitting altogether. 

So when I got that offer, everything I believed to be true was challenged in the best possible way. At that moment, I decided that if I ever had anything of value to share with someone else who needed a leg up that I would pay it forward as many times as I possibly could. 

The workshop was beyond anything I could have possibly imagined and the experience completely altered the course of my life. I came back to the farm after that blissful week in California changed. 

Having someone who I admired so deeply believe in me helped me believe in myself. That act of generosity felt like getting permission to finally go after all of the dreams that I had put on hold for so long. 

I quickly got to work overhauling my little flower business and from there things really took off. Within a few short years, I had the opportunity to write my first book and eventually welcome more than 500 budding and established growers and designers to learn with us on our tiny 2-acre farm. 

Over the next few years, our small family operation grew and we started a seed company, built an amazing little team, were fortunate enough to find our forever farm, wrote two more books, and transitioned our on-farm workshops online.

I can so easily trace each one of these blessings back to the moment I received that life-changing email. You never know just how much sharing with another person can completely change their life. 

I have tried my best to infuse Ariella’s generous legacy into everything we do and our scholarship program is my very favorite way of paying it forward.

Next Tuesday, September 14, we will be opening up applications for our scholarship program. This is our 9th anniversary of both teaching the Floret workshop and offering scholarships.

I am so excited that we will be awarding 12 seats, our most ever. Each recipient will receive full tuition to the 2022 Floret Online Workshop, plus a box of goodies from the farm. 

If you’ve been dreaming of filling your life with more flowers, but the Floret workshop is out of reach, I highly encourage you to take the time and apply for one of our scholarships.

You can read all of the specific details about it here.

The application process is simple—it’s just two short 250-word essay questions and a little bit of information about you. In the first essay you’ll be asked to briefly tell us about yourself and your flower business, organization, or future business idea. In the second essay you’ll tell us what interests you the most about the Floret Online Workshop and how it will help you accomplish your goals. 

We will start accepting applications this coming Tuesday, September 14. To be notified when the application period opens, join the waitlist below.

Hosting the Floret Scholarship program is always the highlight of my year and I can’t wait to dig into reading everyone’s applications!

36 Comments

  1. Leslie Emanuels on

    I too have been a recipient of your generosity. Early on, your blog was the inspiration for a tired momma of young boys. You did a dahlia giveaway, I thought my young boys would love those big colorful flowers. Who knew that it would be me that fell in love with them. Dahlias are now my favorite. I could have never bought them on my own.
    I have always dreamed of coming to the workshop. I would just live vicariously through all the photos you took.
    You are a blessing! Thank you!

    Reply
  2. April Oestman on

    Wow! I love reading everybody’s stories about the difference you have made in their lives. So much of what these comments contain reflect my thoughts as well. I just want to tell you that you have been a guiding light, Ms. Erin, for more almost two years. My daughter became engaged and a few months later, Covid shutdowns began to happen. A Year in Flowers became my bible. Thanks to you, we had a beautiful wedding here on the farm, using floral bouquets that we grew. I really can’t explain how touched I was to see how the magic of the flowers affected our family and guests. This year, my daughter and I took it a step further and started selling bouquets at the closest farmers’ market every Saturday. We have had a blast listening to memories and stories, and have a request for 10 bouquets for a dear lady’s 100th birthday party! Thank you SO much, Erin. You already have given way more than you can ever know (and I adore Jill : )

    Reply
  3. Wren on

    Hi Erin and all of Floret,

    I want to say thank you again for being so kind and generous with your time, talent and treasures. I was a recipient of a photography course, Eyes Wide Open taught by Erin Little, you gave away a few years ago and I have to say, it changed my life. It was exciting enough just to have been a name selected at random ( does that even exist? I believe everything happens the way it is meant to happen – we just need to show up) for the course. The course was wonderful and I learned a lot and later transitioned myself into a career as a product photographer for an all natural bodycare company and later for a multi-generation flower grower (40+ years in business) that does installations for theme parks and other large venues. I then moved across country accepting a job working for one of the premier guest ranches in the country as media designer that had actually contacted me – imagine, I didn’t even own a camera when I entered the giveaway, but I believed I could get my hands on one if I won the course. I have been completely blessed by your generosity and am so excited for all who are chosen for your online flower course. They will forever be changed. I am still a prolific flower photographer and have more dreams to have a stock library, prints and other print-related flora products and I certainly am going to pay it forward to hopefully help someone gain confidence and go after their dreams. Thank you a million times over.

    Reply
  4. Darla Batty on

    Hearing your start up story was exactly what I needed today. I would love to know…. have you ever felt shamed and crushed by others who saw your vision as too big or too out of the box?

    Reply
  5. Kate Anderson on

    Jeeze Erin, you just never age, and are an inspiration to boot. You both should feel very proud.
    From your neighbor to the north that grows and sells Dahlia tubers in Whatcom County.

    Reply
  6. Tammy Latvis on

    Thanks so much for sharing your story.
    I am new to the world of flowers.
    I decided to plant a garden of flowers
    I rented a 20×50 Community garden spot.
    I live in the northeast so I would look at my garden covered in feet of snow
    And try to imagine what it could be.
    I ordered the tools necessary to start seeds.
    My husband thought I was a bit adventurous spending hundreds of dollars just in just seeds. Then came lights and racks and your books.
    I then freaked out and thought what am I doing? I need to find a class of yours. I signed up for your free ones every time you offed one.
    Then came your big class. I waited until it was opened….to my great surprise, it was much more than I could spend on this new trial hobby of mine. I am not going into business so there was no return on my investment. So I thought.
    I loved every day of the nurturing and then the reward of the flowers. I unknowingly have brightened so many lives. My gardening neighbors have shared their admiration. I was able to drop flowers off weekly to a few new restaurants and bake shops while traveling through. I also ring flowers to my work a few times a week so our senior residents can do flower arrangements. The best part was having the flowers to share for my daughter’s wedding. We were able to share them with family and guests. My husband even used the patience of nurturing our garden to the love and nurturing of our daughter through her life to giving her away the day of her wedding.
    I will be spreading the love again in 2022! I’ve e learned a lot and have a lot to stil yet
    To learn.

    Thanks so much for your inspiration.
    I’m happy to send pictures if you like.

    With Blooming Delight

    Tammy Latvis

    I thank you

    Reply
  7. Jonathan Schloss on

    Thank you Erin & Chris for never giving up, the domino effect of your blessing just keeps on going ❤

    Reply
  8. Gwen on

    This Is so exciting! Looking forward to applying to your scholarship program

    Reply
  9. Tracy on

    I am forever grateful and indebted to you and many other flower farmers in the community! Since last year I have learned quite a bit and have tried new things in my gardens, while making plans for more. As always, thank you for all that you do. I look forward to submitting my application for the workshop this year!

    Reply
  10. Esther Rodriquez on

    HI Erin!!!! Thank You so much for the opportunity to benefit from your online workshops. I look forward to filling out my application next week. I own all three of your books and I have watched Growing Floret several times. This year for the first time I tried growing dahlias. After reading reading your book on dahlias, it gave me the courage to try. My crop of dahlias was not a huge success but it was not a huge failure either. I am not giving up at all. I know with your help I am only going to get better. Thank You for your wealth of information. You are my Flower Hero!!!!

    Sincerely,
    Esther

    Reply
  11. Martha Carlston on

    Just so down-to-earth and brilliant. What stands out to me is that you were encouraged to move forward and you did. Self doubt always puts a cloud on courage, if you let it. We have a tiny business and you are our inspiration. Looking forward to applying for the scholarship. But just knowing there is a community of flower lovers out there makes our business so well worth while. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  12. janet hall on

    Your story is beautiful! I am so happy your life work turned out to have a happy ending! I have been partly retired for a year now(age 66) and am so happy to finally have the time to do the things that I truly enjoy, and that is having a garden. At first I have mainly been a vegetable gardener ,but now I am enjoying the love of flower gardens. I have bought so many seeds I do not know where I will put them all!!! HA! Gardening gives me so much pleasure, peace and contentment. This past year I have made bouquets and delivered them to the local nursing homes. My problem was that I planted too much of one variety, but I am slowly adding different flowers to my garden to add more texture. Thank you for all your information that you so graciously give, I have learned a lot from you!

    Reply
  13. Grace Brignolle on

    Life is full of 2nd chances, I had try so many projects and failed. I am a house cleaner and for so long I depended on my good health to support myself, now that I am 60 I had found out my body is not as great as it used to be, I can not longer do that kind of work, and been rejected for my age and COVID I don’t find many opportunities go be sustainable for myself.
    My daughter introduced me to gardening, and I tell you finally I am doing something worthwhile.
    My 2nd chance is this to use what GOD has giving us time & knowledge. I want to use it and inspire my family.
    Thank you for sharing your wisdom & creativity

    Reply
  14. Joanna Arndt on

    Thank you so much for sharing your story and giving us a glimpse into your world. You are truly an inspiration to so many. My family recently relocated to the Skagit Valley. My parents and siblings have lived up here for the past 20 years, so I have always loved visiting the valley, but now it feels like home. We purchased a 5 acre farm, (well, it is in the process of becoming a farm) and I have been struggling with how I will fit into building this dream with my husband and kids. My husband grew up in Eastern Washington and his family managed orchards. He has always worked with the land and earned a horticulture degree at WSU. It’s natural to him when it comes to planting and growing and what all of that entails. I am a city girl. I feel like a fish out of water when it comes to being in the garden and figuring out how to take care of the plants and flowers and it is quite intimidating. However, I absolutely love the idea and I want to jump in with both feet. I just don’t feel that I have the knowledge or confidence. I had no idea that I needed to be a part of the flower farming community, but as I read more and learn about this wonderful, inclusive world, I know in my heart it is what I have been searching for. I have struggled for a long time trying to figure out “what I want to be when I grow up”. I turned 51 in February and I feel like I am finally in a place where I can see that vision. I am so excited about your upcoming online workshop. Thank you again for being such an inspiration and for your generosity in sharing your talents and knowledge to all of us who are looking for a place to belong.

    Reply
  15. Pamela Rodriguez on

    Happy Monday! I hope you and your beautiful family are well and happy. I was introduced to Growing Floret by my brother, yes, my brother! He asked me if I had ever watched Growing Floret which I replied no. “You HAVE to watch!” he said….and so I did….I was mesmerized!!!!! I have always had a special connection to the earth, to the smell of the dirt, to the feel of it in my hand, and especially to planting a small seed and watching it grow into something magical….I want to thank you for sharing your world with all of us. My family has been through many struggles in the last couple of years and Growing Floret was a virtual therapy session each time I watched, as I am sure it was for my brother as well…..that in itself is a gift given by you, your family and your incredible team. I look forward to following Floret to see where the next chapter or chapters take you. Your books are a beautiful collection of love and inspiration, and I hope to purchase them soon. I am inspired to get back to what gives me joy, to my happy place, to the garden……stay safe and healthy.

    Reply
  16. Angela on

    Erin, you have such an amazing soul! I see many, many more great things in your future. Much love to you and your family.

    Reply
  17. Nicole Loyd on

    I am feeling misty eyed over here. This was beautiful. Thank you for not giving up. Thank you for believing in a dream and a different life for your family that shows the way for others. Thank you for bringing more beauty and generosity in this world.

    Reply
  18. Cindy Frost on

    Good day! I recently watched Floret on the Magnolia network. From the first episode to the last I was mesmerized and intrigued. I was so happy and excited , mostly because I finally found someone else who had the same passion for flowers. My family has tried to understand but I can’t really explain to them the feeling deep inside when I see and smell bouquets of flowers. Recently , my daughter’s friend ( much like a daughter to me) was married and I created all the bouquets , corsages and boutonnières and I was even asked to decorate the cake( by the baker ) five minutes before they were to cut the cake. I have done that before but with lots of prayers the flowers just looked so beautiful. It was such a touching experience when the flowers had arrived ,and over the course of a few days opened to such beauty I cried. I have studied Floral design way back in high school, became a flower cleaner , part time except at holidays , and this reaction has always been the same. But I also find myself wanting to know more , I love creating gardens and selecting plants but I also loved the episode about seeds. Having this incredible opportunity would just fill my heart. I told all if my friends next year , let’s grow Dahlias. I was awestruck. I am looking forward to purchasing your books ( see I love books too) but all about flowers is just icing on the cake so to speak. Thank you so kindly

    Reply
  19. Megan on

    It’s so hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel when you’re drowning in defeat, stress, etc.
    You overcame tremendously and I’m sure you’re thankful for those hard times now.
    I know all to well about hard times. I’ve been a single mom for 10 years now and this life is not easy but it’s mine and my daughter & I pray everyday for a miracle. I’m so happy to have found your site!! Flowers make me happy and I’m hoping to start growing a few dahlias next year!

    Reply
  20. Deanna Kern on

    I have had dreams of having a cutting garden for at least 15 years. I am now on a two acre property where I can have one. I am like a sponge- I wanna learn how to do this right- so I really am looking forward to getting a seat in this class- if not this year, then for sure next year. Erin inspires me so much. Her perseverance is quite a wonderful story of never giving upon your dreams.
    Thank you

    Reply
  21. Fanny on

    I read this article with tears in my eyes. I live in Argentina and it is SO DIFFICULT to invest in education or something that you can enjoy. Every penny is to pay debts. With two little children and without a garden (yet), I spend the few spare moments reading and studying about gardening.
    Erin, your beautiful story fills me with hope even if I don’t get the scholarship. Thank you so much!

    Reply
  22. Diana Brock on

    What a blessing just one person can be.
    Luke 6:38 Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.
    Thanks for all you have given us. I just wish I had a farm with chickens, cats and oh some flowers. That’s my dream. And I am 57 years old. Lol

    Reply
  23. Jacqui Kennemer on

    My life was transformed with the Floret course and each year I keep learning and discovering more about what truly brings me joy. The gift you were given continues to ripple out into the world and that’s freaking awesome! Thank you for taking courageous leaps in your journey and in turn, bringing us along with you, so we can all bring others as well!

    Reply
  24. Gale K. on

    Erin, thank you for reminding us it’s what we give and willingly share with others that bring us the greatest rewards in life.

    Reply
  25. sadie schlief on

    Thank you for sharing this, Erin. I’m starting to wrap up my first cut flower season and need to thank you for your experience and knowledge. It was a great help! I’ve also found that so many of my local cut flower farmers are totally open to talking shop and letting me wander around their farmers. This last year has been fascinating! Thanks again!
    Sadie Schlief
    Lowry, Minnesota

    Reply
  26. Stephanie Marsh on

    Erin, I am amazed by your goodness, kindness, honesty, generosity, and knowledge every single time I read your words. I sincerely hope your spirit knows and feels the hope that you have given so many hearts. It is my sincere prayer that every speck of goodness you have put out into this world finds its way back to you, dusted with the joy that your ways have filled others with.

    Reply
  27. Jeannie Stoner on

    Erin,
    I met you on the Magnolia Network and have really enjoyed your story and online workshops. I love flowers and especially zinnias. I have a small area in my backyard that I cultivate for my cutting garden. I would love to receive a scholarship to learn better ways to perfect it. I have planted some dahlias this year and have love adding them to my little garden. Thank you for becoming a part of my gardening experience.
    Jeannie Stoner
    Greenville, SC

    Reply
  28. kate cook on

    You never know when you write who your words reach, and your post and email could not have been timed better. I can only thank you for the inspiration to make the most of my space and embrace my passion for all things that grow (including my 3 humans), love a mum at a crossroads x

    Reply
  29. Carol McGann on

    It is so righteous to pay it forward in life, just a good thing all around! Spreading the knowledge of flowers in your workshop offer is helping to make this world a more beautiful place! I’m so glad I stumbled upon a flower post on FB that led me to your site, I’ve been enriched by your online workshops, blog posts, members of the FB group and now your books.
    I’m not applying for your offer, I think that should go to someone young, at 65 and retired I’m just enjoying growing new flowers and learning new tricks.
    Keep on keepin’on💕

    Reply
  30. Marilee on

    Erin,
    I have watched you Bud & Bloom since book 1 and am incredibly proud of you.
    You are such an inspiration to so many people, keep going!
    Every time I read a post of yours, I am inspired to try new flowers and to explore more beauty in the flower world, so Thank You for the inspiration!

    Reply
  31. Connie Simendinger on

    Dear Erin,
    I am fairly new to the world of Floret. I recently retired and I am excited about what is next I just happened upon one of your shows late one night and ended up watching several of them before realizing it was 2:00 am. I have about a two acre field that I think longs to be flowers rather than grass that I have to mow. Years ago, when my two daughters were young, my husband and I planted the whole field in wildflowers. It was the most wonderful thing. We enjoyed it for a couple seasons and then eventually the grass began to over run the flowers and it became to difficult to maintain so we went back to mowing it. I would love to begin where we left off and have a field full of flowers again someday.
    I am expecting your two books to be delivered to me today. I may have to go back and order the third one. Thanks for what you are doing to inspire me and so many others.

    Reply
  32. Heather Marczynski on

    Thank you so much Erin for sharing so honestly, and helping people learn how to flower farm and about flowers. This blog post reminds me to keep going :) Your story is so inspiring!

    Reply
  33. Debra Rosenberg on

    I was riveted by every word. Thank you for sharing in such detail. And for giving so much of yourself.

    Reply
  34. DAWNETTE Squires on

    So incredibly generous! 12 this year! That is fabulous without a doubt. I will focus my thoughts on building a compelling application this morning. Thank you for paying it forward! I believe those who are blessed, and share their blessings help to make the world a better place.

    Reply
  35. Trina Mitchell on

    Kia Ora Erin,
    Your story is incredibly humbling . You and Chris deserve
    all the accolades and pats on your back for the massive determination and drive thats got you where you are today.
    I acknowledge you 10 fold.
    Paying foward has been one of my mantras for sometime.
    Watching a young lass Leah from my district flounder with mental health anxiety problems for most of her tender years saddened me greatly. This beautiful lass discovered dahlias through my dear friend Archie ( who got me started also), giving Leah his dahlia tubers inspired her to learn more about growing more and more. Her parents purchased a larger property to give Leah room to expand.
    My Paying Forward was to give Leah a copy of your Discovering Dahlias. Her response was rewarding enough, she was so excited and grateful.
    Also acknowledging Archie who guided me into growing these beautiful flowers that I can now split and share with Leah paying forward into her future..
    Thank you Erin.

    Reply
  36. Andrea Clarke on

    A really moving post – the things that really motivate us all is the generosity of spirit. We all have it, but Im sad to say, not all offer it.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Floret Farm's Small Plot: Big Impact

Small Plot: Big Impact

Inspiring stories, profiles & advice from 45 flower growers from around the world

Stay in the loop with our updates

Close

Join Us

Join the Floret newsletter and stay in the loop on all the exciting happenings here on the farm

Close